Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nobody Puts Internet in a Corner

I’m not sure we get it. How utterly the Internet has changed life. Maybe we can’t, because we’re right in the middle of it.

It has been compared to the invention of the printing press, and that’s fair, but I think it’s something that has affected so much, we still aren’t quite getting it. We can chase back all the creeping tendrils … how it has transformed commerce, communication, education … but we still can’t fully grasp the big picture. Perhaps, 50 years from now, sociologists can explain it. Maybe they’ll be able to sum up how small it has made the world, and yet how large in possibility. Many of the people getting married, at least the weddings I’m officiating, met via Internet. They said that the revolution would be televised, but television didn’t cause the revolution, didn’t enable it. Internet is.

Mothers are sharing breastmilk because of the internet, you can help a shopkeeper in Guatemala get a loan because of the internet. When your heart is breaking, and you feel you are weeping alone, you can tweet or Facebook or blog and a whole community weeps with you.

I remember when the Internet had been created, but the World Wide Web had not. I had a geeky boyfriend in college, and he’d show me his computer and these message boards where he connected with other geeky types. His bulky computer was in a dark corner of his apartment, and he’d check it, oh, maybe once a day. Maybe.

How many of our churches are still acting as if that is the Internet? Something people keep in a corner and maybe check once a day. So you should have a church website, with your address and service times, you know.

My kids have a book on the human body with thick, transparent pages so you can see all the different “layers” of the body. The circulatory system. The nervous system.

The Internet has added another layer, another dimension, if you will, to life. It’s not something separate. We pull out our smartphones without a thought, sharing where we are with others who might want to join us, checking email, popping on Twitter or Facebook to see what other friends are doing. And that’s just in the two minutes we’re standing in line to pick up movie tickets. We don’t even think anything about it. It’s simply how we are, now.

The night of that day when Gabby Giffords was shot, many of us who would be preaching the next morning posted to each other on Facebook. “Are you changing your sermon? What are you going to say?” Peacebang opened up a chatroom and we mingled there, to share both our emotions, and the ideas and materials we would use the next day. I wrote about Holly Near’s I am Willing; someone else found a youtube of it; the next day, several ministers either quoted it, or, if they had good voices, sang it. That’s just one example of the inspiration that came out of that “room” that night. Perhaps what was more powerful, though, was not the readings, or quotations, or songs that shared, but our very humanness. We gathered in community. When we left that room, we were strengthened to minister.

Oh, I could go on and on with my examples of how the Internet has changed life. But they are my experiences. Internet, like most things, is a conversion experience. Until you’ve been a part of a blogging community, or found your Tweeps, or become the person who just automatically checks Facebook several times a day, you don’t understand.

Some say that we have Internet fatigue, and our churches need to be a sanctuary from that. No electronic devices, please. I think there will be a niche for that, just as there are people who respond to the unprogrammed Quaker meetings.

For many others, who have grown up texting and tweeting, that will hold no appeal. It will be as if you said, “Come inside, but don’t use your sense of smell.”

But oh what opportunity. There was a time when ministers wondered how church could stay connected past Sunday, how it could continue to impact their lives throughout the week. Were we to point blank ask God to create a vehicle to assist in that, I am not sure she could have done better than this labyrinth of wires and metal.


Strange Attractor said...

As one small example, I would not have found Unitarian Universalism without the internet.

Our church is also struggling with how to draw in the digitally connected and still nourish our older members who are less willing to plug in.

ms. kitty said...

I serve a congregation which has a smattering of young adults but is mostly retirement-types. Almost none of my congregants have smartphones. I got one, but I have yet to give out the number, as nobody is likely to call me on it! Except my son, and he's very frustrated if I don't answer because I don't have the phone on me all the time.

So you, LE, and other young mins-to-be will have to bring my congregation up to speed when I retire!

Steve Caldwell said...

A few years ago, I was teaching a Jewish and Christian heritage block of classes with our congregation's middle school class.

We used the 2003 biopic "Luther" to discuss the Protestant Reformation:

There's a scene in the movie showing what happened to Luther's 95 Theses after he wrote them. The new printing press technology shown in the movie allowed for new ideas like Luther's ideas to spread faster and easier than they would have in the past.

During our discussion after watching a portion of the movie, I asked if they noticed that and I suggested that was the "internet" of Luther's day.

Earthbound Spirit said...

I'm about halfway there. Blogging & facebook & checking email almost constantly. Not onto twitter or smartphones yet - partly because I want some time to myself.

And that is where I'm concerned with the presence of the Internet in my life. Maintaining appropriate boundaries between public & private life, between me and congregants, because god knows her servants do need rest...

kinsi said...

Wonderful post.

Elz Curtiss said...

@ Earthbound Spirit: thank you for raising the key point, which is how we do right relations in a free-for-all. I love my Facebook, but I know it needs me to set up separate groups that can't see each other. Do my ministerial colleagues really want to know about my niece's marathon life, etc? More importantly, do they want her to know about their parishes?

So once again, it comes back to the same old same old: volunteers don't replace staff, they require staff. And frankly, electronic communities quickly start looking for face time together, because we know so much about each other. That doesn't necessarily mean "coming to church" in the same old way, even though we might eventually want to get to that level. A good example is Egypt, where the FB revolutionaries want more time so they can organize to compete in the elections. That's not how they got together, that's not how they met their first level of needs, but it's where they want to wind up.